Artist in Residence: Dhaneshwar Shah

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This month, YCIS Beijing welcomes Dhaneshwar Shah as our Artist in Residence. We speak to Shah about his artistic expression, his projects with our students and how being resident at YCIS Beijing has refreshed his own ideas for his art.

Please introduce yourself

My name is Dhaneshwar Shah and my Chinese name is Shou Tian 寿天. I am a contemporary and experimental artist practising around the world. I completed my BFA and MFA in my home city of New Delhi. Subsequently I studied traditional Chinese art and new media art at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Most recently I was awarded a three-year scholarship by the Chinese Government to complete a doctorate in the future of ink art, which brings me to Beijing. I travel very widely for my work, drawing inspiration from culture and artistic practises all round the world. In this way, I consider myself a global citizen.

How did you discover your passion for art?

When I first started to paint, I knew nothing of artists and art theories. I adopted only line and colour to express my inner thoughts and feelings. It was a school teacher, in fact, who saw what I was doing and told me that I was making was art. After that, I found a new purpose. I embarked on academic study to find alternative ways to express myself and advance my art. In fact, all I found was confusion. Art History teaches you that there are a million ways to paint, there are theories, histories, sociologies. This was distracting to me, it interrupted the vividness of internal expressions.


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In untangling myself from this web of confusion, I found a fascination with the animal world. There is a purity to their behaviour and expression that I could channel. I am captivated by the incredible variety of animals and birds and their humorous, energetic and spontaneous behaviour. In my art now, I find focus and expression in the unique body language, distinctive energies and mysterious characteristics of animals and birds.  

What are the main sources of inspiration for your art?

I am highly influenced by Tribal and Aboriginal art and their philosophies. I find them a purer, more authentic mode of expression. You can find these influences in the dotted lines, thick outlines, bright, flat colours, humour, and repetition of forms in my paintings. I consider my art to be a combination of Tribal and Aboriginal techniques and values, with the aesthetics of contemporary experimental media. My aim is to establish a new global language in contemporary art that remains faithful to self-expression.

Are there any artists that you have been particularly influenced by?

I do not depend on any one artist for inspiration as I want to move beyond a singular artist or style. My main influence lies in Australian Aboriginal art, Tanzanian Tinga –Tinga art, Indian folk art and Chinese ink art. In each of these, animals recur as an important element.


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From history, artists such as Van Gogh, Matisse and Miro have all inspired me with their strength of self-expression, vibrancy of colour, simplifications of form and, in the case of Miro, psychic automatism.

However, most recently I am finding new inspiration from the YCIS Beijing primary students. Their youth affords them an authentic and fearless expressiveness.

Please explain some of the activities you have been doing with students at YCIS

We’ve been doing all sorts of activities: drawing lessons, sculptures made from recycled materials, a sound art project, mask painting, painting on traditional Chinese fans and most importantly the Friendship Canvas.

The Friendship Canvas is 3m x 3m in size. It is a collaborative piece between myself and the students that will hang in the school after I leave. In the canvas, we are exploring important themes such as courage, generosity, empathy, kindness. There is an opportunity for every age group to contribute – with areas for simple hand-prints as well as more advanced painting. We are particularly excited for the finished result.


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During my residency at YCIS Beijing I hope to give fresh direction to the students’ own ideas. I hope to develop and broaden their creativity and inventiveness, and encourage them to turn to nature, animals and the environment for inspiration.

Why is studying art at school important for young people?

Sometimes, words are not sufficient for expressing ourselves. When words fail, we can draw on the visual language of art. I believe that students can find better expression in art than in any other subject. An artwork can represent memory, feeling and thinking and can give shape and form to things that are hard to describe. It can also teach us more about humanity and society than any textbook can.

I believe that the freedom of expression offered by art encourages children to be braver and more experimental. This bravery can extend into their other subjects, helping them to explore and express new ideas with confidence. In essence, I think that art can provide a bedrock for academic pursuits. 

What do you think of our Artist in Residence programme?

I have attended a many art residencies in different organisations and countries but this experience has been totally unique. I am experiencing art in a new way – away from the studio, surrounded by young students with brave and creative ideas. This residency has really enlivened me, refreshing my ideas and imbuing me with a new artistic energy.

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